The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2001

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Reminiscences of the Family of O. Turner

from the History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve by Orsamus Turner

selected by

Robert Koch

Turner Family History

In the year 1796, Roswell Turner came from Dorset, Vermont, took land on the outlet of Hemlock Lake, cleared a few acres, built a log house, and in the following winter moved on his family, and his father and mother. The family had previously emigrated from Connecticut to Vermont. After a long and tedious journey, with jaded horses, they arrived at Cayuga Lake, where they were destined to encounter a climax of hardship and endurance. Crossing upon the ice on horseback, a part of the family, the Pioneer, his mother and two small children, broke through on a cold day, and were with difficulty saved from drowning by the help of those who came to their rescue from the shore. Arrived at their new home, sickness soon added to their afflictions, and two deaths occurred in the family the first year. The residence of the family was changed in a year or two to the neighborhood of Allen's Hill, where they remained until 1804, and then, as if they had not seen enough of the hardships of Pioneer life, pushed on to the Holland Purchase, into the dark hemlock woods of the west part of Wyoming, the Pioneer making his own road, west of Warsaw, thirteen miles; he and his family being the first that settled in all the region west of Warsaw, south of Attica and the old Buffalo road, and east of Hamburgh; -pages could be filled with the details of the hardships of the first lonely winter, its deep snows, the breaking of roads out to Wadsworth's Flats, and digging corn from under the snow to save a famishing stock of cattle too weak to subsist upon brouse, and other incidents which would show the most rugged features of backwoods life; but it is out of the present beat. Roswell Turner died in 1809. His sons were, the late Judge Horace S. Turner of Sheldon; the author of this work; and a younger brother, Chipman Phelps Turner of Aurora, Erie county. Daughters-Mrs. Farnum of Bennington; Mrs. Sanders of Aurora; and the first wife of Pliny Sexton, of Palmyra.

Reminiscences of his Sister, Mrs. Farnum

I remember very well, that when early deaths occurred in our family, no seasoned boards could be obtained for coffins, short of taking down a partition of our log-house. The second winter, myself, a sister, and young brother, went to school two miles and a half through the woods, into what is now Livonia. We went upon the old Big Tree Road, and mostly had to beat our own path, for but a few sleighs passed during the winter. There was but one family-that of Mr. Briggs-on the way.

I think it was in the summer of 1802, that a little daughter of one of our neighbors, Sewal Boyd, three years old, was lost in the woods. A lively sympathy was created in the neighborhood, the woods were scoured, the outlet waded, and the flood wood removed; on the third day, she was found in the woods alive, having some berries in her hand, which the instincts of hunger had caused her to pick. The musquetoes had preyed upon her until they had caused running sores upon her face and arms, and the little wanderer had passed through a terrific thunder storm.

The Indians, if they were guilty of occasional outrage, had some of the finest impulses of the human heart. The wife of a son of Capt. Pitts, who had always been kind to them, was upon her death bed; hearing of it, the Squaws came and wailed around the house, with all the intense grief they exhibit when mourning the death of kindred.

Upon "Phelps' Flats," as they were called near the Old Indian Castle, at the foot of Honeoye Lake, in the first ploughing, many brass kettles, guns, beads, &c., were found. An old Squaw that had formerly resided upon the Flats, said that the approach of Sullivan's army was not discovered by them until they were seen coming over the hill near where Capt. Pitts built his house. They were quietly braiding their corn, and boiling their succotash. She said there was a sudden desertion of their village; all took to flight and left the invaders an uncontested field. One Indian admitted that he never looked back until he reached Buffalo Creek.

In the earliest years, deer would come in flocks, and feed upon our green wheat; Elisha Pratt, who was a hunter, made his home at our house, and I have known him to kill six and seven in a day. Bears would come and take the hogs from directly before the doors of the new settlers-sometimes in open day light. I saw one who had seized a valuable sow belonging to Peter Allen, and retreated to the woods, raising her with his paws clenched in her spine, and beating her against a tree to deprive her of life; persisting even after men had approached and were attacking him with clubs.

I could relate many wolf stories, but one will perhaps be so incredible that it will suffice. A Mr. Hurlburt, that lived in the west part of the town, was riding through our neighborhood, on a winter evening, and passing a strip of woods near our house, a pack of wolves surrounded him, but his dog diverted their attention until he escaped. While sitting upon his horse, telling us the story, the pack came within fifteen rods of the house, and stopping upon a knoll almost deafened us with their howling. Retreating into the woods a short distance, they seemed by the noise to have a fight among themselves, and in the morning, it was ascertained that they had actually killed and eat one of their own number!*

Capt. Harmon, built a barn in 1802 or '03; at the raising, an adopted son of his, by the name of Butts, was killed outright, and Isaac Bishop was stunned, supposed to be dead. He recovered, but with the entire loss of the faculty of memory. Although he had possessed a good education, he had lost it all, even the names of his children, his wife and farming utensils. His wife re-taught him the rudiments of education, beginning with the A B C, and the names of things.

Rattle snakes were too common a thing to speak of; but we had a few of another kind of snake, that I have never heard or read of, elsewhere. It had a horn with which it would make a noise like the rattle of a rattle snake.

* This is not incredible; other similar cases are given upon good authority. Famishing, ravenous; a fight occurs, and tasting blood, they know no distinction between their own and other species. -AUTHOR.
The Turner family history begins on page 202 of O. Turner's History of the Pioneeer
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